Boy learns lesson in school of hard knocks

By Michael Fielding

Red Wing Republican Eagle

RED WING -- There are few bluffs in St. Paul.

So it's unrealistic to expect a 12-year-old boy who recently moved to Red Wing to ignore the dozens of bluffs that serve as a natural backdrop to the little skyline along the river.

These days, though, Christopher Widing is thinking twice about heading to the bluffs to hang out with friends. That's easy to do when he's lying in a hospital bed with a punctured lung.


Widing moved to Red Wing from St. Paul a year ago with his family and soon discovered the allure of the bluffs to youngsters all over town. While climbing a trail on the north side of Sorin's Bluff last year, he located a rope hanging from a tree. Shortly after, though, someone removed it.

"The older kids told us it wasn't safe to play on the rope, but I didn't think I was going to get hurt," he said from his hospital bed last week at Fairview Red Wing Medical Center.

Then another rope appeared, and on the evening of April 20, Widing and several friends went up the bluff to swing a little. Shortly before 8 p.m., Widing lost his grip, fell and rolled about 300 feet down the bluff and into a neighboring back yard.

"When I woke up, two people were there. They had a cell phone and called for the ambulance," Widing said.

He was taken to the hospital, treated and released. But he was readmitted later, and doctors inserted a breathing tube in his chest after discovering that his lung had been punctured.

Bluff accidents are fairly common in Red Wing, especially in the spring, said Larry Horlitz, shift captain with the Red Wing Fire Department. The department responds to several of them each year.

"Our biggest problem is Barn Bluff. Everybody wants to go up early in the spring, and they're pretty much on their own," he said.

Slippery trails aren't the only hazard. Widing found that out.


"You don't know who put up the rope or who tied the knots," Horlitz said. "It's not a safe thing to do."

The department recently bought $10,000 in equipment to begin high-level rescue training in May for its 20 full-time staff members.

"I was using rock-climbing equipment I bought for college. At some point you just have to replace everything," Horlitz said.

Meanwhile, the Widings have adopted a new outlook -- despite the increased rescue training.

"This time he didn't tell me where he was going," said his mother, Fabiola, who learned of the accident from one of her son's friends. Next time, she said, he won't head to the bluffs without an adult.

But Widing isn't planning on going any time soon.

"I'm not going up there any more," he said. "I'll probably play where I'm supposed to -- at parks."

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